By Steve Younis
"The History of Invulnerability" is a stage production about Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, written by playwright David Bar Katz.
A: I'm a playwright and screenwriter. I live in New York City and one of my four sons is named Kal, lest there be any doubt about my level of commitment.
Q: What is "The History of Invulnerability"?
A: It's a play about Jerry Siegel and his relationship with Superman. It also focuses on Jerry's struggles with issues of Jewishness and the Holocaust, which I think were vital in the creation of Superman.
Q: What inspired you to write "The History of Invulnerability"?
A: Well, the biggest inspiration was being a life-long comic book fan. But about twelve years ago I wrote a novel that had a section dealing with the Jewish origins of superheroes. Since then I wanted to expand upon that, and it was always in the back of my mind. Then I became a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company, and buddies with an actor named David Deblinger who I thought would make a brilliant Jerry, so I decided to write it as a play. I was torn between writing about Jerry Siegel or Larry Hart of Rodgers & Hart fame. I feel like there were a lot of similar issues at play, not the least of which was a Jew shaping American popular culture without wearing Jewishness on his sleeve while an ocean away the Holocaust was decimating European Jewry.
Q: I've seen "The History of Invulnerability" listed as a "Dark Comedy". How would you describe it?
A: Hmmm.... Is Sorrow and the Pity a dark comedy? I write a lot of comedies and I would not say this was one of them. Like anything that deals with reality it has its comedic moments, but I would definitely say this play is a drama. I feel like the tone and style is a mash up of comic books, Tennessee Williams, Shoah and All That Jazz.
Q: Did you have any contact with Jerry Siegel's family before or after writing "The History of Invulnerability"? Do you know if they've seen the production?
A: I have not had any contact with them, and there hasn't been a production yet. There were a couple of staged readings at The Public Theater in New York, so I very much doubt they were present. I would love to have contact with them, since one of my goals in a certain way is vindicating Jerry. I basically wanted to give him his moment to shine and tell his side of the story. He is an American hero and the world owes him a debt of gratitude, yet he never got what he deserved when he was alive. That being said, the Jerry in the play is my version of Jerry, so just like if an artist were painting a cubist version of someone they never met, the portrayal could be unrecognizable to anyone who knew the actual man.
Q: "The History of Invulnerability" isn't only centered around Jerry Siegel, it also tells the tale of a little boy in Birkenau who believes Superman will save him. Is this section of the production purely fictional or is it based on something real?
A: That section is purely fictional. I just imagined what it would be like if, as Jerry were writing Superman, a little boy in a camp were reading what he wrote in the comics and actually believed Superman was real and was going to save him. And I don't think it's impossible that such a thing could have occurred.
Q: "The History of Invulnerability" first opened in New York in 2006. What have reviews been like? What kind of reaction have you received from fans?
A: People have loved it. But as I mentioned, it only received a couple of staged readings, so it was never reviewed. Most of the people who saw it were theater people and not comic book people, so feedback I received had more to do with the work as a play. So non-comic book types were very surprised by a lot of the details of Jerry's life and fascinated by aspects of Superman's origin because these were things they knew nothing about. I would be thrilled if fans loved it, because I relate so directly to their concerns. But I also know that fans can be very possessive and detail oriented, and "The History of Invulnerability" is a play, not a bio-pic or documentary.
Q: What do you think about the current on-going legal battle between Jerry Siegel's family and DC Comics?
A: I hope it's resolved in a just way that honors both Jerry and Joe. I think both sides need to ask themselves what is fair and reasonable and act accordingly. Look, at this point Harry Donenfeld is dead and DC Comics is populated with some great human beings, like Paul Levitz, who grew up admiring Jerry and Joe's work and who understand their contribution to the medium we all love.
Q: "The History of Invulnerability" is showing in Cincinnati at the Thompson Shelterhouse Theatre from April 3 - May 2. What would you say to Superman fans in the area who are thinking about seeing it?
A: I would say that fans in and beyond the area should come! I believe that anyone who loves Superman will find the play deeply fascinating because to understand Superman you have to understand the psyche of Jerry Siegel, and that is what I have attempted to dramatize. We have an amazing director, cast and designers and I think we're going to be putting on quite a show!
Q: Thank you for your time and for agreeing to participate in this interview.
A: Thank you!